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Verizon, Digital Promise provide tablets and wifi after a delay due to wildfire smoke

COURTESY PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Students at Dexter McCarty and Clear Creek middle schools picked up their computer tablets to use for the 2020-21 school year after a delay due to wildfire smoke.

After a delay due to unhealthy air brought on by multiple wildfires in Oregon, Gresham-Barlow School District was finally able to hand out some new technology, courtesy of Verizon, to middle school students learning at home.

"It is a fantastic opportunity for us. When we finally got to hand out the devices on Friday the 18th, delayed because of smoke, 84% of our student body showed up to receive them, text books, supplies and other items," said John George, principal of Dexter McCarty Middle School.

The computer tablet distribution took place at Dexter McCarty Middle School and Clear Creek Middle School.

The technology was provided by Verizon Innovative Learning Initiative in partnership with nonprofit Digital Promise, and amounts to approximately $1.8 million for each school and included 1,300 devices.

The program provides free technology, free internet access and "experiential learning experiences to help give under-resourced students the technology, education, and opportunity they deserve," Verizon said in an announcement.

George said 93% of Dexter McCarty students have picked up devices, with the others prefering to use their own devices.

"This is a great advantage for us because it isn't just a Chromebook," George said, "It is also a tablet which really diversifies the things that can be done in terms of instruction and application of learning. In addition, each device comes with a 30 Gig data plan through Verizon which is fantastic because we would have had to procure hotspots for a significant number of our students without this grant."

With students in East Multnomah County and across the state learning from home due to the cornavirus pandemic, students need technology to participate and be successful in distance learning.

Dexter McCarty and Clear Creek are among 110 new schools joining Verizon Innovative Learning for the 2020-21 school year, bringing the program to over 260 middle schools nationwide.

Last year, more than 2,400 middle school pupils in the Reynolds School District received Chromebooks as part of $5.4 million worth of technology from Verizon.

Verizon surveys show that 59% of students believe assignments are easier when using a tablet and 54% of students believe that having the technology improved their confidence in the things they can do.

Verizon Innovative Learning targets the low-income Title 1 middle schools in an attempt to break down barriers to digital inclusion. The program provides free devices for every student, free internet access and help to the schools with curriculum.

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